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Sunday, July 30, 2006

John Tucker Must Die

Last Friday I was surprised to find myself sitting in a theater at the Essex Cinemas surrounded by about 120 pre-teen girls. Somehow I missed the memo that must have gone out warning the general public that Jesse Metcalfe, most notable as the erstwhile seductive gardener from tv’s Desperate Housewives, was now like catnip to girls with budding hormones. Metcalfe, you see, stars as the title character in the ‘tween revenge comedy John Tucker Must Die and his shirtless countenance is apparently all it takes to get those who consider Mary-Kate and Ashley Tropical Bursts Grape Berry Body Mist an aphrodisiac to go wild with delight and to squeal every time he flashes his stunningly white smile full of Hollywood’s priciest veneers. They also tend to titter whenever they hear words like “head cheerleader” (or the word ‘titter’ for that matter) and a few lines of dialogue such as this:

“You went all the way!”

“Depends.”

This sends them roaring with suggestive laughter. Geez, when I was eleven I wouldn’t have known what “go all the way” even meant and now when I hear that dialogue I think it is a reference to having soiled an adult diaper, an homage to the late, great actress and spokes-incontinence-sufferer June Allyson. Obviously, I was out of my league with this crowd.

However, this isn’t to say that John Tucker Must Die isn’t a fun and funny film. Despite the obvious marketing
ploy to attract the Super Bubble Blast crowd, director Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie) keeps the story fast-paced and popping with laughs from beginning to end. She may have graduated from high school a few generations back, but she definitely remembers what fresh hell is served up there on a daily basis, usually at the hands of one teen girl aimed with precision towards another. And that is where John Tucker Must Die begins.

Tucker, you see, is a blessed young man ~ from an extremely rich family, incredibly handsome, dripping with charisma, a top sports star at his high school, a good student, and just seemingly lucky. His life is just about perfect. He has a bevy of beautiful girlfriends in his stable, each convinced that she is the only one for him, but sworn to secrecy because his never-seen parents have forbidden him to date during the basketball season as they see it as a distraction from his ability to concentrate on his ball games. Yeah, right. Trust me, he does a lot of concentrating on his balls, and they get a lot of play. It’s amazing he has any energy left for the court.

Unfortunately, a twist of fate brings three of John’s current girlfriends together where they learn about one another. So the catfights begin until the quick intervention of a school newcomer, Kate (Brittany Snow; The Pacifier), who points out that instead of fighting one another they should be directing their anger at Tucker, since he is the one who lied and cheated on each of them. Oh yeah. Okay, so none of these girls have enough clowns under their tents to make a whole circus, if you get my drift, but soon, Heather (Ashanti; Coach Carter), Beth (Sophia Bush; Stay Alive), and Carrie (Arielle Kebbel; Aquamarine) are conspiring with the Zen master of revenge, Kate, to humiliate, defame, and demoralize Tucker in a dazzling array of creative schemes.

That probably doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to do, but nice is rarely funny. The various shtick the girls unleash on John are like the seven plagues of the Old Testament if God was being played by Robin Williams. By the time they finish with him he has been exposed in ways he never thought possible, and one of those ways includes having him reveal Victoria’s Secret in the cheekiest way possible in front of the whole school.

It would spoil the fun to reveal too many of the girls tricks because these make for many surprise
laughs along the way, but fortunately they are far-fetched enough that they would be hard to pull off in real life, so audience members looking to recreate some of these gags may find it more difficult that it looks here. Still, if you can suspend disbelief, and you have to do that just to believe that 27 year old Metcalfe is playing a 16 or 17 year old high school student, well then almost anything is possible.

John Tucker doesn’t really have to die. He just needs to be taught a few lessons about honesty and having respect for others, which he does learn by film’s end. The jilted girls, too, learn that revenge is not so sweet and offers only a short-lived satisfaction with nothing to hold onto in the long run, and as for Kate, the biggest lesson she learns is to be herself and to not try to be what she thinks others want her to be. Her willingness to lead the ditched divas on their mission was more about her wanting to be accepted than about her being the person she really is, and somewhere along the way she lost sight of the nice girl inside. In doing so, she also didn’t see the one boy who fell for her right from the start, John’s less-that-popular brother Scott (Penn Badgley, tv’s The Bedford Diaries). Fortunately, he has patience, something else a lot of the Clearasil Crowd could benefit from learning. At one point during the picture I sneezed and twelve girls sitting in the row in front of me simultaneously reached into their training bras and pulled out wads of Kleenex to offer me something for my nose. Ah, the younger generation. They can be polite. Obviously, in a big hurry to grow up, but well-mannered for the most part, if just a tiny bit dirty-minded thanks to movies like John Tucker Must Die.

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